North Carolina hosts Boston College on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ACC Network) still looking for its first conference win. The Eagles enter the contest at 3-3 (1-2 ACC) and have, surprisingly, been one of the toughest outs in the ACC throughout the first half of the season.
Whether he's making plays downfield or opening space for other receivers, tight end Eric Ebron is the key to UNC's offense.
Tar Heels' Advantage
North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner said the Tar Heels’ offensive performance against Miami was the best they’ve had all year. Renner was finally able to find rhythm, completing 15 consecutive passes at one point and connecting with Eric Ebron and Quinshad Davis eight times apiece. That should translate well into this contest, as Boston College ranks dead last in the ACC in pass efficiency defense. With T.J. Logan winning UNC’s starting running back job, it looks like the Tar Heels have finally found some sort of consistency in the running game, too.
Boston College must have been licking its chops while watching UNC’s game against Miami. The Hurricanes rushed for 234 yards primarily with its backup running backs. Senior running back Andre Williams offers an even bigger challenge for a Tar Heel run defense that ranks last in the ACC. UNC has struggled against offenses that can control the line of scrimmage. The Eagles’ offensive line has the ability to do just that, meaning the Tar Heels’ inconsistent front seven needs to bounce back from a physically demanding Thursday night.
Tar Heels' Concern
The Tar Heels’ red zone struggles are starting to really catch up with them. UNC reached the red zone five times against Miami but was only able to muster one touchdown. Coach Larry Fedora said a number of factors are to blame. Renner said penalties are the reason, and Ebron explained them with the broad “lack of execution” excuse. The Eagles rank third in the ACC in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on just 47.3 percent of scoring chances.
Boston College doesn’t have a single defender who can check Ebron one-on-one. The junior tight end is quickly becoming one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the country, marked by his 199-yard performance against Miami. The Hurricanes couldn’t slow him down until they started double and triple teaming him late in the game. The Eagles will have to defend Ebron with multiple defenders, opening the door for UNC’s other receivers to have big days against a porous secondary.
Player to Watch: Senior running back Andre Williams
Senior running back Andre Williams has exploded in his final season with the Eagles, rushing for 838 yards through six games. His 139.7 yards per game is easily the best in the ACC and ranks fifth in the country. His prolific season has landed him on the second-team midseason All-American lists from Phil Steele, SI.com and CBSSports.com.
It all starts up front for Williams and the Eagles’ rushing attack. Williams runs behind a big and veteran offensive line. The five starting linemen, all of which are juniors or older, have 97 career starts between them. Fedora said the experience of Williams and his linemen allows the Eagles to put a variety of different wrinkles in their rushing attack.
“Their running back is doing a tremendous job,” Fedora said. “They’re putting him in a lot of positions to do that with a lot of formations, a lot of shifting and motions to confuse the defense or get the defense misaligned and take advantage of it.”
A prolific running game could spell trouble for a UNC defense that was torched by Miami’s backup running back in the second half of the Tar Heels’ 27-23 loss on Thursday. Even if he’s not successful early, Boston College will continue to pound Williams up the middle until he finds success. He leads the ACC with 157 carries.
Ethan Farmer and the Tar Heels' front seven need to play to their full potential to slow down Boston College's rushing attack.
Five more to keep an eye on
Chase Rettig, quarterback
Rettig, making his 40th career start on Saturday, is one of the nation’s most experienced quarterbacks. He’s been BC’s starter since his freshman year. This season, he’s completing 63.8 percent of his passes and has 10 touchdowns to four interceptions.
Alex Amidon, wide receiver
Amidon might be the Eagles’ only legitimate target in the passing game, but he sure is a good one. He earned All-ACC honors last season and is 144 yards short of the school receiving record. He has 38 catches for 547 yards this year – 450 more than BC’s second-leading receiver.
Kevin Pierre-Louis, linebacker
Boston College has a case to make for being “Linebacker U,” and Pierre-Louis is the next standout in line. The preseason All-ACC selection leads the conference with 9.8 tackles per game (59 total). He also has one sack, one pass breakup and 4.5 tackles for losses on the year.
Steele Divitto, linebacker
Divitto is second on Boston College and seventh in the ACC in tackles, averaging 8.1 of them per game. The senior middle linebacker is in his third year as a full-time starter for the Boston College defense. He has a sack and 1.5 tackles for losses to his name this season.
Nate Freese, kicker
Freese, who handles both kicking and punting duties for the Eagles, is one of the nation’s premier kickers. He’s a perfect 6-for-6 this season and 56-for-67 for his career, which places him fifth among all active kickers in accuracy. He has a long of 49 yards this year.
Prediction: While UNC is never able to fully pull away from a tough Boston College team, the Tar Heels' talent advantage eventually tips the game in their favor.
UNC 24, Boston College 17